Reflections on Norbertine Formation


Surprised By Joy

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 14-15)

By Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner (A favorite quote of Fr. Brennan)

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner (A favorite quote of Fr. Brennan)

Words do not adequately express how deeply I have encountered God throughout the last several months.

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.”

“When Mrs. Pearson asked my third grade class at Queen of All Saints to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, this is the picture I drew. My mom kept it all these years; 31 years later, I finally grew up.”

On May 27, the 50th anniversary of my Uncle Ted’s ordination to the priesthood, I was ordained “a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3) by Bishop David Ricken at St. Norbert Abbey. Throughout my ordination weekend and the ensuing days, I have been continually surprised by joy. In describing joy, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me …” I echo this sentiment; but I know for certain that I am home: I am home at St. Norbert Abbey, I am home in the overwhelming humility and joy of being continually invited into the brokenness and blessedness of the People of God.

Is it really possible for a 40-year-old man who has dreamt of being a priest since childhood to be surprised by joy? (See drawing above.) I can tell you from experience—yes, I have known forever that I wanted to be a priest. And yes, I have repeatedly been surprised by joy. My ordination weekend (Mass of Ordination, “First Mass” of Thanksgiving, and related celebrations) and the weeks following continue to overwhelm my heart and soul with joy. Words do not adequately express how deeply I have encountered God throughout the last several months.

May 27, Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood. The Mass of Ordination was celebrated by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in the Church of St. Norbert Abbey.

May 27, Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood. The Mass of Ordination was celebrated by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in the Church of St. Norbert Abbey.

Saturday morning, ordination day, I was in the abbey dining room and bumped into one of our elder priests, who suffers from dementia. I shared, “Father, they’re ordaining me today.” Startled and a bit confused, he replied, “What?” I repeated, “I will be ordained a priest today.” This time my words registered, and his face lit up as he said, “They are?” Smiling, he gave me a tender and loving hug and added, “Congratulations!” With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat I responded, “Thank you, Father!” In the abbey dining room, I was surprised by joy.

Recently, I joined Deacon Kevin DeCleene, pastoral leader of St. Norbert College Parish, and two friends in the home of a fellow parishioner who was preparing to have back surgery. As we gathered around her kitchen table for the Anointing of the Sick, I was overcome with the goodness and grace of this sacred moment. Around our neighbor’s kitchen table, I was surprised by joy.

These are but two specific examples of how I have been surprised by joy throughout the last several months. In addition, I have been surprised by the joy of making eye contact with family and friends throughout my weekend of ordination and First Mass, of consecrating the Eucharist, and of hearing confessions. My prayer is that God will continue to surprise me with joy as I seek to serve God and neighbor as “a priest forever.”

The Gift of Presence

By Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.

Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., reflects in the cemetery of St. Norbert Abbey.

Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., reflects in the cemetery of St. Norbert Abbey.

Between January and May of this year, I had the pleasure of partaking in an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, otherwise known as CPE. CPE is the program for those who want to be certified chaplains and work in settings such as hospitals or nursing homes. Also, completing a unit of CPE is a requirement for seminarians in many dioceses and religious communities, including the St. Norbert Abbey community. In CPE, one gains self-knowledge and grows as a pastoral minister through clinical hours and group processing. There were four other students in the unit besides myself, guided by our CPE supervisor.

I completed my clinical hours as a chaplain intern in two hospitals and a nursing home/assisted-living facility in the Chicago area. Anyone who has taken part in CPE would agree that certain ministerial encounters stick with you. I recall a number of times going to the room of a patient who had just died and offering spiritual support to any family or friends present. I do not think anything can fully prepare you for handling these or similar situations, because each person, each family, is unique, and the dying experience for loved ones impacts people differently. In such situations, I recall feeling like there was something more I should have been doing. However, the family or friends of the deceased were often just grateful for my presence. In their time of sorrow, my presence and support meant more to them than I realized.

Early on in my unit of CPE, I was on the other side of such a sorrowful situation—the unexpected death of my brother in early February. My family and I, as well as many others, grieved over his death. That first week, especially the first few days, were tremendously hard for me. It did not seem real at times. I just wanted to see my brother again. However, it was the presence and support of those around me that helped me through that difficult time.

My family, friends, CPE supervisor, and group members were there for me. My fellow brothers in Norbert were also present and supportive, such as Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., who drove me from Chicago to St. Norbert Abbey the morning after I received the news of my brother’s death. There was also Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem., who reached out to my parents upon learning the news. And how can I forget the many Norbertines present at my brother’s funeral Mass. It is moments like these that show me I joined the right community—a community of faithful brothers who care.

Ironically, I learned about grief in CPE as I grieved over the loss of my brother. Grief can be thought of as a wound that starts out large but gets smaller over time. However, like a scar, it will never go away. In my opinion, the supportive presence of those close to us can help with the diminishment of grief. I experienced this supportive presence myself and am glad I was able to minister to others in such a way as a chaplain intern in CPE.

Where We Minister

As stated in the mission of St. Norbert Abbey, “We give ourselves in service to one another and to people in need, with special emphasis on service and advocacy for the poor. We commit ourselves to our traditional ministries, while being open to new apostolates.”

Members of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey minister at hospitals and nursing homes, among other apostolates.

If you are considering a vocation to Norbertine religious life and/or priesthood, call 920.337.4333 or e-mail vocations@norbertines.org to speak with a member of St. Norbert Abbey’s vocations team.

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With the Laying on of Hands and with Prayer

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

The ritual for ordaining a priest in the Catholic Church is a ceremony rich in symbolism. Most people seem to be drawn to two elements: the dramatic gesture of the Litany of the Saints being sung as the ordinand lies prostrate before the altar, and the moment following when the ordaining bishop and all the other attending priests prayerfully lay hands on the head of the person being ordained, and with that the solemn prayer of consecration. The sight of the ordinand lying on the floor before the altar while the gathered assembly invokes the saints and heavenly powers is certainly a powerful moment in the ritual.

But it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action; everything else leads up to it and flows from it. I never fail to be moved by this simple ritual, the more so as I know the man being ordained. But one ordination stands out and has influenced me ever since.

Jim was a student at a Norbertine high school, a hockey player. He attended college out East. While he was a good man, a little on the wild side, we wouldn’t have pegged him for the priesthood. But as a college senior Jim had a profound conversion experience. After college he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We were friends from high school through college and his religious formation. So on May 27, 2000, I found myself participating in his priestly ordination in Baltimore.

… it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration that is the core of the sacramental action …

—Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Perhaps because Jim’s ordination was my first outside the Norbertine community, I was more aware of what I was doing. It was a transcendent moment. I was deeply conscious this was not simply about the priesthood we all shared, but that in my heart it also represented the nearly 900-year tradition of Norbertine priesthood.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem., imposes hands upon the ordinand: Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 2015.

Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem., imposes hands upon the ordinand: Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 2015.

Well, a priest is a priest is a priest … right?

Yes—and no. There is a distinctive quality to this particular tradition that is challenging to put into words. It is a nuance, a Spirit, perhaps a particular way of exercising the priesthood of Christ that we all share.

Just as the whole Church, the Body of Christ, is a Royal Priesthood, so each Norbertine community is a priestly community. This embraces lay members, brothers (and sisters), as well as ordained members. The community as community offers a priestly service in the “sacrifice of praise” of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as well as the ministry of service to the Local Church and to the world around us. The service of Norbertine priests, flowing from this priestly community, is a corporate ministry. We are not “lone rangers,” even when we find ourselves “alone” in a parish or classroom or other setting. We act—certainly in the name of Jesus—but also in the name and with the support of the entire brotherhood.

So in laying hands prayerfully on the head of Michael Brennan, O. Praem., on May 27, we not only pass on through Bishop David Ricken the ministry of Christ—our true and only Priest—but we also share with Michael the unique gift and orientation of this particular priestly community.

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